04/24/2007

Deaths at Calif. resort called 'suicide-by-cop'

By Christopher Goffard, Garrett Therolf and Ashley Powers
Los Angeles Times

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. — On their final night alive, Kevin and Joni Park checked into a bluff-top bungalow at one of the West Coast's toniest resorts packing a gun and a bag of ammunition. The Mission Viejo couple used a fake name, police said, and paid for their $2,200-a-night lodgings in cash. They brought piles of money and boxes of mysterious documents.

They had come to Laguna Beach's Montage Resort & Spa on Saturday night to discuss a vexing "business" problem, the couple's daughter said cryptically in an interview. But after a standoff with police the next morning, as other hotel guests readied themselves for oceanfront yoga and seaweed wraps, Kevin Park, 49, and Joni Park, 48, lay shot to death in what one investigator called "suicide by cop."

Much in the case remains baffling, such as details of the couple's problems, why they were armed and what their documents contained. Law enforcement also will not say why, the night before checking into the Montage, the Parks, who owned a real estate investment firm, summoned Orange County sheriff's deputies to their home and spoke to them for an hour.

The confrontation unfolded Sunday morning at the 30-acre resort, whose website boasts of 400-thread linens, Swedish massage and "Vichy shower rain therapy," and where bungalows can run up to $6,500 a night.

Laguna Beach police say they arrived at the Montage after receiving calls of a domestic disturbance, including one reporting "a crazy naked woman with a gun." Police said Joni Park was threatening to kill bystanders.

Police arrived to find themselves in a standoff with the Parks, talking to the couple through an open sliding-glass door. Joni Park waved the gun wildly, pointing it at police even after they ordered her to drop it, an investigator said. Officers shot her and she dropped the gun, the investigator said, at which point her husband picked it up and aimed at police, who shot him also.

The wounded wife then grabbed the gun and again aimed at police, the investigator said, forcing them to fire on her a second time.

Police searched local and federal databases to determine whether the Parks were suspects in any criminal investigations but found no evidence that they were. The investigator said Joni Park checked into the hotel first with about $7,000 in cash, and was joined later by her family.

"They were just people that got pushed a little too far with things they couldn't clear up legally and financially," their 23-year-old daughter, Christie Park, said in an interview. "My mom was at her wit's end.... She was so frustrated that it just caused this madness." She said her mother wasn't "running around naked" but might have been seen undressed through the window.

The daughter declined to provide further details.

She said she and her parents arrived at the lavish Laguna Beach resort -- along with her two siblings, brother K.C., 17, and Amanda, 8 -- late Saturday night. She said her mother was behaving "irrationally" with the gun Sunday morning and that her father and brother tried to get the gun out of her hands on the bungalow terrace. She said she expected her mother to get arrested, so she left the resort with Amanda to spare her the sight.

"They weren't crazy people that intended for this to happen. It wasn't some Heaven's Gate meeting," said Christie Park, referring to the cult members who committed suicide in 1997.

"It was just a meeting to talk about things in a business and hopefully try to get them cleared up," said the recent UC Berkeley graduate who works in advertising. "And it didn't get cleared up, obviously."

Laguna Police Sgt. Jason Kravetz said detectives had yet to review boxes of documents that were found inside the couple's hotel room.

"They're voluminous," he said.

The Parks lived in a modest red-roofed house in Mission Viejo, where neighbors described Joni Park as a volatile woman who favored flower muumuus and was preoccupied by class status. She told neighbors she came from money. She yelled at people who turned around their cars in her driveway, neighbors said, and threatened to call the police on people who parked in front of her house.

Zerek Fewell, who lives across the street, said he asked his pastor to pray for her because she seemed so angry. Chris Dunyon, who lives next door, said that when she started remodeling her house, Joni Park screamed about the noise, waving her arms and flying into red-faced rages. She said Kevin Park tried to make peace.

Neighbors described Kevin Park, a former postal worker, as the meeker and more reasonable of the pair.

In 2004, he received probation and community service after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace after initially being charged with assault, battery and trespassing. That year, he also pleaded guilty to reckless driving after being arrested for driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.09%.

Neighbors said investigators, in questioning people on the block after the shooting, seemed more focused on the wife than the husband.

Nancy Senerchia, who lives down the street, said Joni Park frequently argued with waiters and store clerks, prompting Kevin to jump in to make peace. "She's a complainer," Senerchia said. "If she doesn't like something, she lets it be known." She said Joni Park seemed to feel that Mission Viejo was beneath her and wanted to move to Newport Beach.

Still, Senerchia described the family as tightknit and "sweet," adding that Joni Park once said she regretted "that she didn't have any friends."

Christie Park said her parents, who had been married more than two decades, enjoyed staying at nice hotels. At the Montage on South Coast Highway, with its spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, bungalows go for thousands a night, and an hourlong marine wrap in "pure French seaweed" runs $220. The resort also offers customized packages including meditation, beach walking and journal writing.

"It was, like, why not be in a place of beauty when we're all together?" said the daughter.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
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